“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~ Gandhi
When I speak of learning, I am not only speaking of formal education but of the learning that occurs through monitoring one’s own thoughts and emotions and also that which is a natural result of interactions with others. For me, my curiosity has lead to a fiery desire to continue to increase my knowledge and understanding about, well, just about anything really. I absolutely fear the idea or possibility of stagnation, of ceasing to learn. To a fault, I believe. I don’t know if it’s a factor of the ticking time-clock that follows each of us through our days, that I have not been in a place in my life that outweighed this desire, a need for distraction from the heartbreak of everyday life, or perhaps just a simple character flaw. Either way, it has lead me to the place I am now – pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Georgia. A good friend of mine once stated upon entering her doctoral program, “I wonder how long it will take them to realize that I’m not smart enough to be here?” At the time, I laughed with her about it but now..now I know what she was speaking of. I spend my days feeling like I’m catching up to the others, feeling like at any moment my professors are going to wonder how it was that I was accepted into this program. It must be a fairly natural feeling if both my friend and I experienced the same at the start. What is spectacular, to me, is that if someone had asked me five years ago what I would be doing right now it certainly would not have included this. I found my way to this place through one project in one of my courses during my master’s degree. That’s all it took, the interest was sparked, the ideal institution was identified and I jumped. I don’t know how it came to be that I had the necessary qualifications for the program but, alas. It would have been very easy for me to have stayed in that place, that place that provided, albeit meagerly, for my needs and carved out a life for myself there. It was the desire to continue to learn and to push myself to a greater understanding of the world that ultimately forced me to leap off of the cliff, so to speak. So, here I am! My new job, one requiring dedication, a great deal of humility, hours of reading, and a certain level of nerdiness. My new world, a small on-campus apartment without my dog and cat (Casey and Taiko) but surrounded by the beauty of this campus and the energy that pervades a great university. The energy produced by the collective desire to increase understanding, to grow one’s knowledge of the world around us.
Inevitably, there are personal, non-academic experiences which stretch us to our limit and force us to learn in a different manner. Things that defy definition and reason. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the sickening heartbreak of lost love, or perhaps, the realization that you tried something so completely outside of your realm of comfort and failed spectacularly. Having experienced just about all of these more than once, I feel the need to categorize the experience and view it in more of a positive sphere. So, I find myself searching for aspects through which I can learn something to carry on to the next chapter. Some of the most important lessons to learn in life come from the not-so-positive experiences. Sometimes all we can learn is how not to act, how not to treat someone else, how not to handle your finances, what not to do on a Friday night, who not to date, directions you do not want your life to take. I take comfort in knowing that everyone experiences these things, that not everyone does everything right the first time.
Luckily, there are the positive life experiences to learn from! Moments when things go right, when things line up just the way you desired. The times when the sun shines a little brighter, colors seem more vivid and the breeze is always in your favor. Maybe love has found you. Maybe a goal realized. Dreams fulfilled. Blessed by sudden focus and clarity. Revel in them and commit them to memory. However, in these moments it is especially crucial to keep perspective and remember that, unfortunately, these moments are also fleeting. Savor them, learn what you can and take it with you through the next step. They will prove to be a great motivation.
As one of the three aspects of my newly minted life philosophy [ha], I find that comfort can be found in seeking a learning experience from every adventure and every ordeal. Without that, what would be the point of having endured?